When you’re first starting to work with medical cannabis, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by all the terminology. Cannabinoids? Terpenes? THC and CBD? Whatever happened to good old marijuana?
Believe it or not, there’s a method to the madness. While cannabis is a safe, gentle, and sustainable medicine, that’s not to say it’s a “one-size-fits-all” solution. Let’s walk through a few of the most important concepts and examine how they work to treat specific symptoms.
Understanding Cannabis: Cannabinoids
While cannabis is a remarkably complex plant containing at least several hundred different compounds, arguably the most important are a group called the cannabinoids. What’s especially fascinating about them is they work in close harmony with what may be our body’s most important regulatory network: The Endocannabinoid System.
What does this mean to you? For one thing, it’s a signal that of all the plant medicines (and synthetic pharmaceuticals), cannabis is uniquely tailored to work with the human body. All its medical benefits—powerful pain-fighting and anti-inflammatory effects, the ability to quell nausea and certain types of seizures, among many others—have a “direct line” to our body’s own signaling and response network. For those of us interested in relief from symptoms with a minimum of side effects and harmful pharmaceutical interactions, it makes cannabis a safe, effective, and compelling alternative to pharmaceuticals.
THC is the most common cannabinoid, and it’s the one responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive “high.” But that’s not all it’s doing for our bodies and our minds: As numerous studies show, THC helps us manage difficult-to-treat pain and the inflammation associated with bodily injuries. What’s more, that pleasant euphoria helps many of us drift off to sleep, ensuring a complete and restorative night of rest.
CBD is the second-most-common cannabinoid, and it’s been the subject of a lot of excitement in the medical world. While it isn’t psychoactive like THC, it can provide a mild and pleasant energizing cerebral buzz.
CBD provides many of the same benefits as THC but in markedly different ways. It’s excellent at helping us control certain types of pain and inflammation, but through different mechanisms than THC. That’s one of the many reasons they’re more effective in conjunction than separately.
What’s more, CBD helps many of us tame anxiety, stress, and depression. One pediatric study demonstrated that a high-CBD oil successfully treated symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety. And an experiment designed to simulate the anxiety of public speaking used moderate doses of CBD to reduce anxiety.
Terpenes are the fragrant oils that give different strains of cannabis (and countless other plants, trees, and even animals) their distinctive aromas and flavors. Until recently, they weren’t given a great deal of attention, but research indicates they bring real healing power to chronic symptoms and conditions.
There are roughly 150 different terpenes in cannabis, so it would be impossible to detail all their medical benefits here. But for example:
- Studies have established that the peppery terpene caryophyllene exhibits anti-anxiety effects in rodent models.
- Multiple studies have shown that linalool—also found in lavender—helps combat some types of pain, and might one day supplant or even replace costly and dangerous opioids.
- Clinical studies point to the terpene myrcene’s effectiveness at helping us get deeper, more restorative rest.
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